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Freud and the Rat Man
By Clarissa Freeman
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Ernst Lanzer was a lawyer in his late 20s who had an obsessional neurosis
that had dated back to his childhood but that had become much worse in late
1907. He had many fears, for example that something bad was going to happen
to a young lady of whom he was very fond and he had odd compulsions, for
example he felt he wanted to cut his throat with a razor. He was tormented
with fears that his father would die, even though his father was already dead
and had been for some years. His chief fear though concerned a story that
someone had told him. The story was about a punishment that was given to
criminals in the Orient: a pot is turned upside down on the buttocks of the
criminal and rats in the pot then bore their way into the criminal’s anus. He
was terrified that this might happen to him and became obsessed about rats.
Hence “Rat Man”.
Freud traced his neurosis back to his childhood when Rat Man had been allowed
to indulge in sexual foreplay with his governess and he feared that his father
would find out and he would be punished. He therefore associated sexual
pleasure with fear of punishment and hostility towards his father and he felt
that he should be punished for all his feelings towards his lady friend. This
made his hostility towards his father surface and he feared something bad
would befall his father. So, he really fears punishment for himself for his
sexual feelings but reverses this (displacement) and fears punishment for
those close to him. Neat explanation! Rat Man’s analysis lasted 11 months
and his neurosis was completely cleared.